L to R Cody Eden, Ed Borg, Barbara Clark, and Carrie Ann Eve
Shakespeare at the Lake is back, and it’s better than ever! I’m not a Shakespeare kinda gal. I’m always up for a musical, but Shakespeare…not so much. I have to tell you, I absolutely loved this year’s show “12th Night.” And, of all the Shakespeare at the Lake productions I’ve seen, I found it to be the best one yet.
The premise is a Duke who loves a Countess who is in mourning for her father and brother and is not at all interested in the Duke. Twins Viola and Sebastian are shipwrecked and separated. The female twin pretends to be a male for safety’s sake and is sent by the Duke to woo the Countess in his name. There is, of course, a subplot, as there always is with Shakespeare, amongst the servants in the house of the Countess. And hilarity ensues!
One of the things that made this production so good was that I understood it! And the actors did, too. With Shakespeare, there’s iambic pentameter (a particular way of speaking in rhythm) and rhyming couplets to contend with. And then there’s the language which is not always like our everyday speech. They all add layers to a performance and can be challenging for the actor to master and for the audience to understand if the actor isn’t skilled.
There’s a speech that Hamlet makes to the players that sums it up for me, “Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc’d it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as live the town crier spoke my lines.” Just typing this out, I’m noticing that my spell check wants to change “live” to “if.” That makes so much more sense. If only there was a spell check for Shakespeare in real time!
But, you won’t need any translation for this show. The actors did a great job of conveying the meaning of everything they were saying. And their use of gestures, facial expressions, and phrasing drove the message home. I asked the director of the show, John Tomlinson, if this year’s cast had more experience than normal or if they did anything differently to prepare this year. He confirmed that they did not have any more experience than past cast members. He did note that he had switched up his directing style a bit to more engage the cast. He waited longer to set things and just allowed the process to happen which in turn allowed the cast to come up with ideas on their own. He noted that quite often their ideas were on par with his.
He also opined that the actors came to this show with quite a lot of energy after having been sidelined by the pandemic for two years. This is the 7th year of Shakespeare at the Lake. The 2020 and 2021 productions were virtual. The actors were ecstatic at having an opportunity to perform in person. However, resuming the process in-person was not without its challenges. The cast had more than its fair share of illnesses.
Luckily, Viola and Sebastian weren’t the only twins who were associated with this show. Real life twins Daniel and Brandon Blecman were on hand. Daniel was cast as Duke Orsino. Brandon came to every one of Daniel’s rehearsals. And, thankfully, he was up for filling in for actors who had to miss rehearsal due to illness, including two cast members who ended up with long term COVID and one who had to have an emergency appendectomy. In fact, he helped out so much, he was made the honorary understudy of all roles.
Another aspect of this production that I enjoyed was the music. There were several songs that Feste the Clown -played perfectly by Dakota Laiwa McKay- sang. I asked Tomlinson who came up with the music and the lyrics. Apparently, the lyrics are by Shakespeare himself as they are written into the show. Though, they did add a few pop culture references. The music, however, was all Cody Eden who played Curio, the Duke’s musician. He wrote original compositions to go with the lyrics and to fill in the gaps on stage. The music also helped to promote the setting of the show.
The show is set in outer space. This was reflected in the costumes. Costume Designer Barbara Clark had a lot of fun repurposing costumes she found in storage, including some from a prior show, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” She was inspired by multiple space themed movies and TV shows. I don’t want to ruin anything by saying too much about the costumes, but you should really see how many different show inspirations that you can pick out.
I asked Tomlinson why space and why this show. “We’ve done Shakespeare in tights and maybe we’ll do it again, but it’s fun and refreshing to see Shakespeare through a new lens.” He also said at the time that he was selecting which show to direct, he was seeing a lot on the news about Amazon and Tesla and private ventures going to space. Plus, he’s a fan of SciFi.
As for why this show, it was one of the first Shakespearean shows he ever saw. He’s always found it to be a lot of fun and yet confusing to him. He’s seen it multiple times, but always kept his distance; not quite sure if he was ready to tackle it. Though, he’s used the opening for years as a monologue. He finally decided he was ready to explore the themes within the show: “Believing what you see, you are what you put on, and exploration of who we are within the confines of gender labels.” He’s always found the language in the show beautiful and liked the idea of having a live musician on stage. Tomlinson says, “The opening monologue, which begins ‘If music be the food of love, play on’ really sets the tone for the whole show.”
There is an ironic and unintentional twist to the “twins” in the production. In the show, Elizabeth Wetmore plays Viola who is pretending to be a man wooing a woman. In real life, Hayley Martin is an actress portraying Viola’s brother, Sebastian. Hey, Shakespeare had boys playing women, why not flip things and have a woman playing a man. Especially when we “have such a small pool of actors to pull from for these shows.”
The entire cast is worthy of mention, but alas, I have not the room to do them all justice. They will keep you laughing and entertained. The show was presented at Library Park in Lakeport last weekend. This weekend you can see it on the other side of the lake in Clearlake at Austin Park on the new stage across from the police station. Performances are August 5th, 6th, and 7th at 7pm. Admission is free. However, you will want to bring your wallet. Beer and wine will be sold. There will also be tacos to purchase from Kitchen Catering. And, on Sunday, Rock and Rolled Ice Cream will be on site.
Bring your own chair or blanket to sit on and a hat would be a good idea, as well, as there probably won’t be a lot of shade until the sun sets. Shakespeare at the Lake would like to thank the cities of Lakeport and Clearlake and also Lisa Wilson of Clearlake Campgrounds for paving the way for these performances.